‘Christian Eugenics’? Anathema Sit
This came in my e-mail the other day:
Through our network of associates, you have been invited to join the elite Christian Eugenics Society. The society is just now forming and we are planning on our first conference to be held either in Cambridge, MA or Oxford, UK during the fall of 2013.
I know, you hear “eugenics” and think “evil.” But that is not the case. Cultural Marxism has done much over the last 75 years to paint eugenics as bad, but this has not always been so.
Plato and Aristotle were the first to popularize eugenics and early Christians all practiced eugenics. From the ancient world to the early 20th century, eugenics was the norm in the West. In the early 20th century, the majority of pastors and priests in the USA supported eugenics. Perhaps the biggest practitioners of eugenics over the past 100 years have been the Chinese and Ashkenazis, much to their benefit.
Our board of directors will include: people with graduate degrees in the hard sciences, classical languages, philosophy and theology.
Our motto is: “A humane eugenics for a better future.”
That’s right, in the early 20th century a majority of clerics in the US did support eugenics. And you know what? Shame on them. Reviewing Christine Rosen’s book about the support eugenics received among Christian clergy of that era, Wesley J. Smith writes:
Before reading Rosen’s Preaching Eugenics, I had assumed the churches resisted eugenics almost uniformly – – and no doubt been subjected to withering criticisms from modernist public personages, academics, and members of the science establishment, the primary boosters of the pseudoscience from the late 19th century on. But, as Rosen ably demonstrates, history is rarely that simple.
The Social Gospel movement, led mostly by Congregationalist and Unitarian ministers, grew rapidly in these years among mainline Protestant churches. The Social Gospel reconceived Christianity as being less about faith and salvation, and more about, as Rosen writes, “ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth through [social] reform and service.”
Many Social Gospel adherents viewed eugenics as God’s plan to reconcile the truths of science with the Bible. Toward this end, Bible verses were reinterpreted and found to contain what had theretofore been secret eugenics messages. Thus, in one minister’s sermon, Noah’s flood was God’s own eugenics policy for eliminating a human race that had degraded and become inferior. Others insisted that Christ’s Parable of the Talents was actually about improving the population: In eugenics exegeses, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him,” took on a whole new meaning.
While some notable leaders of the broader eugenics movement kept their distance from all things religious, the American Eugenics Society recognized the importance of church leaders in selling eugenics theory to average Americans. Toward this end, the society appointed the Reverend Harry Emerson Fosdick, whose radio program, National Vespers, reached two or three million listeners each week, to its advisory council. Securing the endorsement of Fosdick, one of the nation’s most famous preachers, was a major coup for eugenics.
The American Eugenics Society’s Committee on Cooperation with Clergymen also sponsored eugenics sermon contests, open to all ministers, priests, rabbis, and theology students. The sermon had to be preached to a regular congregation in a church or synagogue, and the minister had to take up the question, “Religion and Eugenics: Does the church have any responsibility for improving the human stock?” The prizes ranged up to $500, a hefty sum in the mid-1920s.
Many lay popularizers of eugenics also appealed to religious traditions to promote their agenda. The most notable, it seems, was Albert Edward Wiggam, who traveled the lecture circuit promoting eugenics as “the final program for the complete Christianization of mankind.” Wiggam even rewrote the Ten Commandments, in which “The Duty of Eugenics” replaced “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The “Duty of Scientific Research” supplanted the proscription against making graven images, while the “Duty of Preferential Reproduction” replaced “Thou shalt not kill.”
One irony here: those Christian clergy who favored eugenics tended to be the theologically liberal ones; those who opposed it were more or less theological conservatives (e.g., Roman Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants).
I do not understand how eugenics can ever receive a Christian imprimatur. Indeed, the return of eugenic thought under more culturally acceptable terms (e.g., “genetic engineering”) is and will become a principal threat to human life and dignity, and something that the churches must be fighting with all we have.
On the questions of eugenics in general, I assume that it’s probably true that people of certain genetic stock have, in general, greater intellectual capacity than people of other genetic stock. I also assume that it’s probably true that people of certain genetic stock have, in general, greater athletic ability, or greater this, or greater that. Genes have a great deal to do with making us who we are. So does our environment. We are morally and spiritually created equal, but we are not equal in terms of genetic endowment. Even in my own family, my sister inherited the athletic qualities, but I, probably because I have some physical characteristics associated with autism (e.g., low muscle tone, poor upper body strength, poor motor skills), was dealt a comparatively poor genetic hand. If we accept that genes make a difference in our physical capabilities, should we not accept that they make a difference in our mental capabilities?
But I don’t have any interest in these questions, and am suspicious of those who do, because I wonder: what are you going to do with that information? If we can prove that X people are on the whole genetically more intelligent than Y people, what does that prove? That Xs are better than Ys? Do we use this to justify discrimination against Ys, either formal or informal? The human race does not have a history of handling these issues well.
I actually believe that there’s such a thing as forbidden knowledge, or knowledge that we should conceal from ourselves for good reasons — chiefly, that we can’t be trusted with it. It’s interesting to consider the politics of the scientific study of IQ. People on the cultural left often love to cite the prerogatives of Science against people on the cultural right, when the latter object on moral grounds to some policy goal the left favors. “Let Science guide policy!” we hear, as if science were morally neutral. What if Science wants to study human intelligence and genetic determinants? Is the study of that subject okay, or is it only okay if it will lead to the kind of egalitarianism favored by the left? If science is only to be given free rein if its conclusions support what the cultural left already believes, then let’s be honest about how the left views science instrumentally, not as an end in itself.
On the other hand, this stuff deeply troubles me too, not because I think it can’t possibly be true, but rather because I believe it might be true, and I do not trust us not to abuse that knowledge to seek power over others. In a post-Christian, post-industrial, technocratic meritocracy like ours, intelligence is a far more important factor in judging a person’s worth than the quality of their character. It is part of human nature to find ways to convince ourselves that Our Kind is superior to all others, by virtue of membership in the tribe. Eugenical thought puts a scientific gloss on a claim that, in the Christian view, is morally false, and can even be deadly dangerous.